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Some people are just good sleepers.  They fall asleep quickly, stay asleep soundly through the night, and wake up refreshed and ready to go.  Sadly, the majority of the population does not consist of those people, myself included.  A study from Consumer Reports found that 27% of Americans report sleep disruptions regularly, with 68% struggling to sleep at least once a week.  Poor sleep quality can lead to cognitive impairment, higher incidents of on-the-job accidents, heart disease, stroke, and memory loss, to name a few.

So how can we create better sleep habits? The good news is that you can make small changes to your space and lifestyle to put you in a better place physically and mentally for rest. (None of which involve sleeping pills or prescription drugs!) The tips below will help change daily practices to enable you to get the best, most restful sleep possible.

Our cat, Tuna, yawning big as he prepares for a long night outside. Science has speculated that yawning increases with boredom, so perhaps he was simply uninterested in my work.

Change Your Space to Promote Better Sleep Habits

Shawn Stevenson, author on sleep and creator of The Model Health Show, refers to the bedroom as a “sleep sanctuary.” This ideal is a perfect way to think about how you want your room to look and feel. The bedroom should be welcoming for a restful night from the sheets to the temperature.

Darkness Rules

It is best to make your sleep area as dark as possible as there are numerous benefits to sleeping in a dark room.  A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that room light suppresses melatonin levels, which leads to delayed sleep and a shortening of the body’s representation of night. Consider blackout curtains* for your space. But if you don’t mind the feeling of one, it may be easier and cheaper to get yourself a sleep mask* instead.

Keep it cool

The National Sleep Foundation indicates the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperatures within this range are optimal for your body to be able to slip into its deepest sleep states.  Anything above or below these temperatures can impair the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

As we gear up for the summer months, take a look at the weight of your bedding and blankets, and consider finding a lighter alternative. Sheets and throws made from bamboo, silk, and cotton tend to be the most breathable.

Eliminate noises

Noise pollution is becoming more prevalent as our society continues to become more industrialized. It is such a threat that the World Health Organization enacted night noise guidelines for Europe, which limit acceptable noise levels to less than 40 decibels, which is the noise level of a quiet library, for comparison. The policy cites elevated blood pressure and heart attacks among the risk factors of long-term night noise exposure due to the negative impact on sleep. If you live in a noisy area, consider a white noise machine* or earplugs* to block out potentially harmful noises.

Get the right pillow

We’ve all slept on the wrong pillow before.  It might be one you used at a hotel or a relative’s house, but you know the second you roll over in the morning that your neck is going to be jacked up for days.  Having the right pillow is critical for quality sleep.  This article goes deep on the interworking of pillows, which are a lot more complicated than I thought, to help find the perfect pillow and material for you.

Our dog, Rangeley, has a favorite pillow that she sometimes unwillingly shares with my husband. It gives her just the right amount of neck support so she wakes up ready to play.

“I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

Ernest Hemingway

Change Your Lifestyle to Promote Better Sleep Habits

I once heard Shawn Stevenson say, “A good night’s sleep starts the moment that you wake up in the morning.” Everything you do for and to your body throughout the day is setting you up for either success or failure when you lay down to sleep that night. The below tips can help set you up for sleep success through natural lifestyle changes.

Clean up your diet

Eating a healthy diet has benefits in all areas of your life, including sleep. Research has shown that indulging in more sugar and saturated fat with lower fiber intake can result in lighter, less restorative sleep. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that for a group of women over 50 years old, there was a direct correlation between carbohydrate intake and increased risk of insomnia. Opt for an afternoon snack that focuses on protein or healthy fats instead of grabbing a few cookies. Your body will thank you with restful sleep.

Establish a nighttime routine

Humans are creatures of habit, and we crave routine.  We provide great sleep routines for our children but often neglect to do that for ourselves.  Setting a bedtime routine can help your body and brain know what to expect and that it’s time to settle down for sleep.

A sleep routine does not need to be overly complicated.  Here are some ideas for things you may consider adding to your routine: a bath or shower, journaling, or using a calming app like Loóna or Headspace to wind down. My nighttime routine is below as an example.  It’s simple, straightforward, and what my body now expects every night to settle down for good sleep.

  • Take out the dog for the last potty break
  • Fill up a cup of water and head upstairs
  • Take magnesium, methyl folate, and vitamin d
  • Brush teeth and wash face
  • Get into bed and read with kindle turned to “night mode” for 20-30 minutes until drowsy
  • Lights out

Give yourself the time to sleep

This one is tough, depending on your schedule, but try to allow yourself at least 7-8 hours in bed.  Going to bed at midnight when you know your alarm goes off at six is not helping you.  Try to back your bedtime up to allow your body the opportunity for rest, even if you sometimes have issues falling asleep.

“The cultural idea of sleeping when you’re dead will only accelerate the day that it becomes your reality.”

Shawn Stevenson

Cut back on or eliminate alcohol

A report titled Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use pulled together many sleep studies done over the years to examine the effects of alcohol.  Researchers found a next-day reduction in alertness and performance after consuming alcohol to a level of .06 BAC (approximately 1-2 drinks) before sleep.

Nobody wants to be that girl falling asleep on the bar. Opt for one drink and head home for a good night’s rest instead. Thanks to Mahrael Boutros from Pexels for the photo.

Cutting out alcohol is going to be a no-go for some people.  If you are someone who chooses not to forgo alcohol to find better sleep, do your best to stop drinking one to two hours before bedtime.

Start a meditation practice

A study published in JAMA revealed that older adults assigned six weeks of meditation practice instead of sleep education experienced less daytime impairment and sleep problems. These findings, which need to be replicated and looked at for the long term, point in the direction of mindfulness meditation as being beneficial for sleep.

Many companies are taking advantage of this trend and have released nighttime meditations to help people fall asleep. Though it’s worth mentioning that meditation does not necessarily need to happen at night to benefit sleep. Meditating at any time of day can help to calm and clear your brain to promote restorative sleep.

Use night mode on devices

It is now fairly common knowledge that holding your phone mere inches from your face before you try to fall asleep is not the most helpful. Luckily, many devices have implemented a night mode, which tones down the blue colors to allow your eyes to relax. If you can’t avoid screens for 2-3 hours a night, as recommended by Harvard Health, they say exposing yourself to bright, natural light during the day can also help to combat the screen’s negative effects.

Awesome Sleep Resources

The following books, articles, and podcasts are fantastic resources for information about sleep and how to improve it for anyone at any age.

  • Sleep Smarter* by Shawn Stevenson.  Shawn is also the host of The Model Health Show podcast, where he focuses on health and human performance.  This book is chock full of excellent information and insights that will help you clean up your sleep.
  • The Sleep Revolution* by Ariana Huffington.  This book is a complete guide to why sleep matters for a person who once suffered from massive sleep deprivation and exhaustion.  This book will especially resonate with high performers and the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” types.
  • This article by Ben Greenfield is one of the most in-depth reviews of sleep and its inner workings that I’ve seen on the internet.  It’s worth a read.
  • This episode of the Rich Roll podcast with guest Shawn Stevenson. The good stuff on creating better sleep habits starts around minute 46.
  • Another incredible sleep episode from Rich Roll with guest Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, one of my favorites!

Do you have another trick that helps you get better sleep? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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